The US has achieved a narrow slice of victory in Afghanistan after fighting in the country for nearly two decades, the top US general said Wednesday.
“We believe that now after 20 years, two decades of consistent effort there, we have achieved a modicum of success,” Joint Chiefs chairman Mark Milley said during a virtual think tank event hosted by the Brookings Institution.
The US invaded Afghanistan in 2001 shortly after the Sept. 11 terror attacks on New York City and the Pentagon. At the time, al-Qaeda, which claimed responsibility for the attacks, was using the country as its operational base and the Taliban refused to hand over the group’s leader, Osama bin Laden.
The US invasion sought to ensure the country would never again be used as a hotbed for international terrorism, but the Taliban has remained resilient. Despite the US military’s efforts, the hardline group is currently in control of large swathes of Afghanistan.
More than 2,400 US service members have been killed in the US’s longest war, while more than 20,000 others have been wounded, according to the Pentagon.
Milley said that during the past five to seven years the Afghan government and Taliban have been in a “strategic stalemate.”
“The government of Afghanistan was never going to militarily defeat the Taliban, and the Taliban, as long as we were supporting the government of Afghanistan, was never going to militarily defeat the regime,” he said.
The US has been seeking a negotiated settlement between the Afghan government and the Taliban that would allow for a withdrawal of US troops.
US President Donald Trump has ordered force levels reduced to 2,500 by Jan. 15, shortly before he is set to leave office Jan. 20.
The US is looking at using its reduced force posture in the country to staff “a couple” of large bases with “several” smaller installations in Afghanistan to continue to aid Afghan forces, Milley said.
“What comes after that will be up to a new administration,” the army general said. “But for right now our plan, and the decision of the president, is to go to 2,500 troops by 15 January.”